Today’s post was spurred on by a recent review written by a reader on Amazon, who said they would have enjoyed Eternal Seduction more if the historical and geographical facts of New York City were more realistically represented. As most of you who read the blog know, I’m pretty good at taking any reviews of my books with a grain of salt, whether they’re good or bad…but this one really got me thinking. Now, this entire post doesn’t center around the content of that review, but I bring it up because it was the catalyst that set my brain in motion. And I figure if you knew where my mind was when I started writing this post, you could follow my sometimes erratic but always bouncing mental ball. ;)
I think every author who’s published a book has a secret list of ideas/themes that they hope their readers pick up on as they read said book. You know, those little subtle details that the author drops here and there throughout the story, hoping that each one will get filed away in the readers mind until later when BAM! - they all line up and add another layer to the story that wasn’t necessarily obvious. Well, I’d like to think most authors have a list as such, but then again I may be the only one. :) In any event, my list for Eternal Seduction is rather short. And though a few of the points on this secret list have been brought up in scattered reviews over the last year, I haven’t really felt the need to bring it up because it seemed like the majority of readers understood what was happening in ES.
And I’ll let you know right now that I used to hate reading an author interview where he/she made the comment, “I’m just so glad the readers got my story. That they really got what I was trying to say.” But over the last year, I’ve started to understand what those authors meant. I’ve read/heard some authors lash out and call the readers who’ve written unfavorable reviews stupid for not getting “it”. “It” being one or more of those subtle themes/ideas I referenced earlier. First, I would say to those authors, “BAD!” You never call your readers stupid, or any other name you wouldn’t want to be called yourself. Hell, I learned that back in kindergarten. :) And second, I don’t think intelligence has anything to do with a reader not picking up on veiled hints or clues. Personally, I think how well a reader picks up on character subtleties has everything to do with how well those nuances are written, and how well the reader identifies with the character. I know that for me, as a reader, if I understand where a character is coming from, even if I don’t like or agree with them, I can usually catch the underlying elements that drive who they are.
And how all of that pertains to the review that got me thinking about this subject is - in Eternal Seduction, the description of NYC and all it entails is given mainly through Logan’s eyes. And the truth of the character is that I could stand Logan in the cleanest, most pristine alley in NYC…and she would still see it as a dark, dirty and unforgiving place. It doesn’t matter what the reality of NYC is today, because that’s not how she sees it. She views the city she lives in, and even more appropriately - the entire world - as a cruel and selfish place…and her view really doesn’t start to change until she meets Kerestyan and listens to him talk about how he sees the world.
Now, if I strip away all character perceptions and look at the reviewer’s comments from a strictly realistic and factual basis as an author, I can completely understand where the reviewer is coming from. However, the NYC I write about in my series isn’t meant to be a perfectly realistic portrayal of the city we all know. After all, I’m writing fiction, containing mainly vampires and other supernatural creatures. ;) And I’m bringing this issue up because, and by no means do I mean to come off condescending in any way, but if you’re the kind of reader who thrives on realism in terms of geography and historical accuracy – my series probably isn’t for you. And, like I said, I don’t mean that comment in a nasty way, not at all. I mean it in the sense that if those details make or break a story for you, you should save your $12 and use it to buy a book that has the qualities you’re looking for. Life’s waaaay too short to read a book that doesn’t do it for you. And if I can warn you in advance that my series may not suit your tastes, I’d much rather be honest with you upfront than find out later that you were disappointed somehow. Trust me, the last thing I want anyone feeling when they finish one of my books is disappointment.
The Darkness Within series will have stories set in a handful of different major cities, but most often Chicago. And while some well known landmarks and sections of town are mentioned in the books, there will also be a lot of places that don’t truly exist. For example, in my series, Grey’s Coffeehouse is a cornerstone of The Loop in Chicago, but last I checked – it’s not real. And while Prudential Plaza very much does exist in the Chicago we all know, something tells me if you take the elevator to the 34th floor, you aren’t going to step out into an extravagant foyer featuring a marble fountain and a big sexy vampire guarding a set of mahogany double doors. ;) So please understand that while I’ll reference real places and use the names of real cities, they aren’t going to be portrayed with 100% realism and accuracy. They’re my semi-realistic version of the cities we all know and love, which is what allows me to layer in the varying supernatural elements and create a darker world for the books.
So now that I’ve waxed poetic about my reasoning for portraying cities the way I do, I have a question for all the readers out there…
When you pick up a paranormal romance, or really any fiction novel set in the modern day, do you expect all the story elements to be 100% factual, or do you just expect those elements to have a basis in reality? And if a story is set in Los Angeles, do you just assume it’s the same Los Angeles you see on the news or in a tourist book? Also, last but not least, do you tend to assume the description of something, be it a place or an object, is the author’s personal opinion of said place/object, or do you read the descriptions as the character’s opinion of it?
I’m really curious about this whole individual perception idea because when I pick up a fictional novel, even if it’s set in present day, I don’t expect it to be factual. I guess what I mean is that if it’s set in NYC circa 2010, and the Statue of Liberty is described as being red instead of that odd green color, I just assume that either in the author’s version of the world the statue is red, or that in the character’s perception the statue is red. Now, if I was buying a tourist guide with full color pictures…I would not expect the Statue of Liberty to be red.
Wow, this whole post now reminds me of the saying: when most people hear hoof beats, they think horses…not zebras. Is anyone else expecting zebras, or is it just me? :D
P.S. A special thanks goes out to the Amazon reviewer who got me thinking about reader expectations and perceptions. Because if other readers naturally assume when they see the name of a modern city that it will be exactly as they know it in present day, it might do everyone some good if I put a short note at the beginning of the books letting readers know that the NYC or Chicago they'll be reading about, while not too dissimilar from the city they know, has a fictional bend to it! :)